God's intention and desire to bless humanity is a central focus of his covenant relationships. For this reason, the concept of blessing pervades the biblical record. Two distinct ideas are present. First, a blessing was a public declaration of a favored status with God. Second, the blessing endowed power for prosperity and success. In all cases, the blessing served as a guide and motivation to pursue a course of life within the blessing.
The Old Testament Terms for blessing abound in the Old Testament, occurring over 600 times. The major terms are related to the word meaning "to kneel, " since in earlier times one would kneel to receive a blessing.
The history of Israel begins with the promise of blessing. The curse, which had dominated the early chapters of the biblical story (Gen 3:14, 17; 4:11; 5:29; 9:25), was countered by God's promise to Abraham that "all peoples on earth will be blessed through you" (Gen 12:3). The record of Israel's past is best understood as an outworking of blessing and cursing (Deut 27:1-28:68).
The institutions of societythe family, government, and religion—were the means by which ceremonial blessings were received. Within the family the father blessed his wife and children (Gen 27:27-29; 49:25-26; 1 Sam 2:20). In the government context, the ruler blessed his subjects (2 Sam 6:18; 1 Kings 8:14, 55). Those who possessed a priestly role were bestowed with the privilege of blessing (Gen 14:19; Lev 9:22). The tribe of Levi was set apart "to pronounce blessings in his [the Lord's] name" (Deut 10:8; 21:5).
Three common themes are present in formal Old Testament blessings. First, the greater blesses the lesser, a fact picked up by the writer of Hebrews to demonstrate the superiority of Melchizedek to Abraham (Heb 7:6-7). Second, the blessing is a sign of special favor that is intended to result in prosperity and success (Deu 28:3-7). Third, the blessing is actually an invocation for God's blessing: "May God Almighty bless you and make you fruitful" (Gen 28:3).
In a less ceremonial sense, the Scriptures declare a general blessing on the righteous. Those who are obedient to God's commands are blessed with affluence and victory (Deu 28:1-14). On the other hand, those who are disobedient are cursed (Deu 28:15-68) and suffer the consequences of drought, disease, and deprivation.
It is also possible for a person to "bless" God. The terminology arises as a response to the blessings bestowed by God: "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits" (Psalm 103:2; KJV ). These occurrences of "bless" are usually translated "praise" or "extol" in modern versions.
The New Testament The parallels between the Old and New Testament usages of blessing are striking. To be blessed is to be granted special favor by God with resulting joy and prosperity. In the New Testament, however, the emphasis is more on spiritual rather than on material blessings.
God's promise to Abraham again serves as a foundation for blessings. The pledge that "all peoples on earth shall be blessed" (Gen 12:3) is fulfilled in the person and work of Jesus Christ (Ga 3:8-14). He has borne the consequences of the curse for believers (Gal 3:13) and blessed them with the forgiveness of sins (Rom 4:6-9; see Psalm 32:1-2). Believers are "blessed … with every spiritual blessing in Christ" (Eph 1:3) and now inherit the blessings promised through the patriarchs (Heb 6:12, 15; 12:17; 1 Peter 3:9). As a result of receiving God's blessings in Christ, believers are called to be a source of blessing to the world, especially in response to those who persecute them (Luke 6:27-28; Rom 12:14; 1 Cor 4:12; 1 Peter 3:9; cf. Isa 19:24; Zech 8:13).
In a general sense, the terms for blessing in the New Testament are used to designate that one is favored by God. Included among these are Jesus (Mark 11:9-10); children (Mark 10:13-16); Mary (Luke 1:42,48); the disciples (Luke 24:50); those who "have not seen and yet have believed" (John 20:29); and those who endure trials (James 1:12; 5:11). As in the Old Testament, when these words are ascribed to God they are rendered "praise" (Rom 1:25; 9:5; 2 Cor 11:31).
The most recognizable references to blessing come from the teachings of Jesus. He declares that in spite of difficulties at the present time, the promises of God's salvation and coming kingdom bring a state of happiness and recognized favor with God (Matt 5:3-10; Luke 6:20-22). The culmination of the Scriptures proclaims the end of the curse (Rev 22:3) and the eternal blessedness of the people of God (Rev 20:6; 22:7).
William E. Brown
Bibliography. W. Eichrodt, Theology of the Old Testament; H.-G. Link and U. Becker, NIDNTT, 3:206-18.